Wes Anderson’s latest film, The French Dispatch, is perhaps his most eccentric offering to date.
Wes Anderson is a polarising filmmaker and there’s generally a distinct line drawn between those who love his work and those who loathe it. From his low budget debut Bottle Rocket to the cult classic The Royal Tenenbaums, his has been a steady career paved with cinematic oddities such as Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited.
His latest treat is The French Dispatch, a quirky anthology film which reaches peak ‘Anderson’ and is perhaps his most eccentric offering to date – and possibly the most inaccessible for those unfamiliar with this auteur.
Chronicling the final publication from the French foreign bureau of a renowned American newspaper, the film is comprised of three stories as told through journalist pitches to the Chief Editor, each telling an odd story of quirky characters and their extraordinary circumstances. These episodes are bookended by the comings and goings of the editor’s office, which is a narrative unto its own.
Bill Murray plays Arthur Howitzer Jr., who dies during the opening of the film. From this moment we track back to the final issue of the newspaper and follow his peculiar process of assigning stories and negotiating style with the various writers.
Owen Wilson provides a momentary interlude to guide the viewer through the past and present of a fictional town named Ennui-sur Blasé, before Tilda Swinton presents a narrative lecture of the first story – ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’ – telling of a mentally disturbed murderer and artistic genius (Benicio Del Toro) who resides in prison and is hoodwinked by a trio of shrewd art dealers.
The second story – ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’ – tells of a young revolutionary and student (Timothée Chalemet) who begins an intimate relationship with a Dispatch journalist (Francis McDormand) that helps him to complete his manifesto, ultimately authoring most of its content.
The closing segment – ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’– is an elaborate tale of kidnapping, pursuit and culinary deception, as told by a Dispatch journalist (Geoffrey Wright) to a popular talkshow host (Liev Schreiber). It is the longest of the segments and perhaps the most comical.
It must be said that The French Dispatch is not a film that is easily absorbed with one viewing. It is, at first, a visceral delight with Anderson’s trademark style dominating every single frame of its 103-minute running time.
If his hallmark use of fairytale world-building and cartoon-like productions has proven to be off-putting to you, then give this film a wide berth. If, however, those magical and unconventional musings ignite your imagination, then the film will shift your brain into overdrive. It’s his most outlandish and idiosyncratic work to date, requiring patience and a basic knowledge of French cinema to fully appreciate its intricacies.
If Anderson were to channel Woody Allen and Paul Thomas Anderson, this might be the result. It is at times neurotic and existential, with a rich tapestry of characters working on a very distinct canvas. With a who’s-who of Hollywood talent, it features his most impressive ensemble cast – most of whom are under-utilised in cameos, which might suggest other stories intended but not included in the final cut. Amongst the cavalcade of stars are Elizabeth Moss, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Griffin Dunne and Jason Schwartzman – all given little to do except to add pizzazz to Anderson’s vision.
If this reviewer had the benefit of a second viewing then it might be a very different perspective on offer, yet what is obvious is that The French Dispatch will test the patience of some, while invigorating others. It’s a smorgasbord of avant-garde Easter eggs and cinematic winks, and only upon a revisit can it begin to be fully appreciated.
In cinemas: December 9
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Wes Anderson